By: Jed Baker Ph.D.
A “meltdown” is an intense emotional reaction when individuals are overwhelmed or threatened. It can look like a loud tantrum or a quiet shut down as individuals become non-responsive. In these moments, it is as if the emotions have “hijacked the brain” such that individuals do not have access to logic and reasoning.
Meltdowns can occur anywhere, anytime, at home or in public. Common triggers include (1) internal issues like tiredness, hunger, (2) sensory issues like too much noise or stimulation, (3) lack of structure, where rules, routines and schedules are not clear, (4) frustrating tasks, like school work, (5) Being denied access to a desired object or activity, (6) being ignored or not getting the attention one wants, (7) and threats to self-esteem, such as making mistakes or losing a game. Knowing the trigger to repeat meltdowns can help us anticipate and prevent them from happening.
Things to keep in mind as you respond and prevent challenging behaviors including meltdowns.
- Understand the limits of the typical approach. When occasional challenging behaviors arise, it’s okay to use a typical discipline approach of having rules and consequences to address the misbehavior. However, when repeat problems continue, we must stop reacting with more discipline and think about how to prevent the problem in the first place. For some children with special needs, increased discipline only serves to escalate the problem.
- Manage ourselves before we can manage our children. Controlling our own emotions comes from a positive understanding of our children’s behavior. Parents or teachers must see a child’s poor behavior as temporary rather than permanent. They must neither blame themselves nor their child but rather see the behavior as a reflection of the child’s lack of skills. This understanding positions them to maintain their cool and teach the child better ways to cope. Research shows that when parents and teachers maintain optimism, they get much better outcomes
- Calming a meltdown in the moment/Crisis management. In the midst of an unexpected meltdown, try to teach the child a better way to get what he wants, like asking for a break rather than tantrumming. When all logic is gone, use strategies to calm the child rather than trying to reason with him or force compliance. Redirect your youngsters attention to something they enjoy, validate their feelings or use humor to get their mind off the problem at hand. These are forms of distractions and can be some of the best crisis management tools.
- Understanding repeat problems. When meltdowns continue, it is important to move out of crisis mode and begin to gather information about what triggers those repeat meltdowns in order to prevent them in the future. In the No More Meltdowns book and No More Meltdowns APP you can learn more in-depth strategies on how to identify triggers and track challenging behavior over time.
- Creating prevention plans. Most of the No More Meltdowns book is designed to provide parents and teachers with guidelines to prevent problem behavior associated with common triggers. Here are some common triggers so that you can create prevention plans.
- Do your schoolwork
- Try it, it’s delicious
- Hurry up, the bus is coming
- Clean up
- I don’t want to go
- Waiting/accepting no
- Just wait
- You can’t always get what you want
- Okay, time to stop playing
- Threats to self-image
- Winning isn’t everything
- It’s okay to make mistakes
- But names will never hurt me
- Unmet wishes for attention
- Play with me
- How come he got more than me?
- Time to go to bed
For more in-depth answers on how to deal with meltdowns and create proactive prevention plans pick up your copy of NO MORE MELTDOWNS: POSITIVE STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING AND PREVENTING OUT-OF-CONTROL BEHAVIOR.
Dr. Jed Baker is the director of the Social Skills Training Project, a private organization serving individuals with autism and social communication problems. He is on the professional advisory board of Autism Today, ASPEN, ANSWER, YAI, the Kelberman Center and several other autism organizations. In addition, he writes, lectures, and provides training internationally on the topic of social skills training and managing challenging behaviors. You can contact Dr. Baker for a workshop or consultation services at www.jedbaker.com or www.socialskillstrainingproject.com.